Jonathan Gayles, Ph.D. is Associate Professor of African-American Studies and Associate Dean for Undergraduate Learning in the College of Arts and Sciences at Georgia State University. In 2012, Dr. Gayles produced an independent documentary on African-American comic book superheroes entitled “White Scripts and Black Supermen: Black Masculinities in Comic Books.” The American Culture Association/Popular Culture Association awarded the documentary the 2013 Peter Rollins Best Documentary Film Award. The value of this work has afforded the film a host of other awards and numerous national and international presentations and screenings including the 2015 San Diego Comic Con.
As a young boy, the Dr. Gayles loved comic books and the escape that they provided. However, as a young BLACK boy, his ability to truly escape was limited by the fact that many of the heroes were White. This documentary critically examines the earliest representations of Black masculinity in comic books and the troubling influence of race on these representations. Within the last several years, many scholars have critically engaged comic books as a legitimate source of scholarly interest and critique. Indeed, comic books represent a genre within popular culture that is older than the television. Thinking critically about the manner in which Black men were first portrayed in hero serials provides insight into broader societal conceptions of the Black man as character, archetype and symbol. Through interviews with prominent artists, scholars and cultural critics along with images from the comic books themselves, it becomes clear that the Black superheroes that did eventually emerge are generally constrained by stereotypical understandings of Black people and Black men in particular.
This film is the first of its kind and provides audiences with a lens to consider broader representations and constructions of black masculinity that persist to the present. Dr. Gayles leads audiences in considering the present-day and real-world consequences of particular constructions of Black masculinity.
In 2015, Dr. Gayles independently wrote, produced, and directed his second documentary film entitled “The E-Word: A Documentary on the Ebonics Debate.” The film examines the context of the national furor in response to the Oakland Unified School District’s Resolution on Ebonics. The film pursues a more informed understanding of “The E-Word” through the use of archival footage and interviews with former students, teachers, administrators, policy-makers and scholars that were directly involved with the Resolution and the national debate that ensued. The release of the film has been met with high critical praise. It will screen in the inaugural film series of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans in April 2016.
“Dr. Gayles was engaging, witty, and thought provoking… an outstanding presentation.” – Kerry Raadt, Director of College Events – Carleton College
“Jonathan Gayles was an inspiration. His talk on African-American representation in comic books was dynamic and thought-provoking, connecting with the audience in a very direct way, and provoking energetic discussion. A real winner!” – S. Elizabeth Bird, Ph.D., Director, Humanities Institute – University of South Florida